To age brutishly is Liam Neeson's apparent career goal—with Taken, Clash of the Titans, The A-Team, and now Unknown, the actor continues to follow the Nicolas Cage path from respected thespian to big-budget ass-kicker. In this tepid thriller from Jaume Collet-Serra (Orphan), Neeson is Dr. Martin Harris, who, after a Berlin car-accident head-conk puts him in a coma, awakens to discover that his wife, Elizabeth (January Jones), doesn't know him—and is in fact now with another man (Aidan Quinn) claiming to be Dr. Harris. Bewilderment leads to paranoia leads to run-for-your-life desperation once Harris finds himself stalked by expressionless hitmen, yet the story's central mystery hinges on an early reaction shot from Jones that the Mad Men beauty flubs completely, thus sabotaging the subsequent hour and a half of suspenseful misdirections and red herrings. When Jones is replaced at Neeson's side by Diane Kruger (as the cabbie who saved his life), the film shows a tiny flicker of life, though this switch does little to alter the material's gradual devolution into tedium. Despite its series of fights and chases, Unknown largely cages Neeson's aggression until its finale: a too-little, too-late gesture for a project ultimately predicated on its star's newfound badass reputation.
Has Neeson become the new Charles Bronson?
Opens at Metro and other theaters, Fri., Feb. 18. Rated PG-13. 109 minutes.